Many homes receive water damage after storms, especially large storms like hurricanes. If your home has been harmed during a storm, you will need to evaluate and document the damage in order to get it repaired and file an insurance claim. Water damage restoration can often be more extensive, time-consuming, and expensive than it appears at first, so filing an accurate insurance claim is important. When evaluating a damaged house, especially after a hurricane or tornado, it’s important to assess the extent of the damage accurately and safely. Here are some steps to help you evaluate a damaged house:
Safety should be your biggest concern. Storm-damaged buildings can be unstable and flooded floors and structural components may be soft and unsafe. Damaged drywall can fall without warning, and water-damaged electrical systems often have shorts or other problems. Before entering the property, ensure that it is safe to do so. Check for any visible structural damage, weakened foundations, or signs of instability. Remember to consider the ceiling and roof as well as the foundation and flooring. Also make sure that utilities, especially power and gas, are turned off if there is a possibility that the systems are damaged. If there are concerns about safety, consult a professional before proceeding.
Examine the Exterior
Before you even enter the house, you can begin your investigation by inspecting the exterior. Look for visible damage to the roof, walls, windows, doors, and foundation. You can also look at the property and evaluate the damage to outbuildings, such as sheds, as well as potential problems with utility lines. Look for branches on lines and areas of puddling water. Look for damage to the siding such as broken or missing pieces, and watch for water damage if there was flooding. Check for signs of water infiltration, such as stains, mold, or dampness, which may indicate potential structural issues or compromised insulation.
Assess the Roof
The roof is one of the most common things to be damaged during a storm. Inspect the roof carefully for missing or damaged shingles, sagging areas, or signs of leaks. Look for any debris or fallen branches that may have caused damage or which may be masking problem areas. If it’s safe to access the roof, do so carefully and assess its condition. If you can, also try to access the attic to look for signs of leaks inside. Many roof leaks are small and are only found when water intrudes and begins causing damage. If you suspect damage, call a roofing contractor to do a thorough evaluation.
Check the Interior
Once you are inside the house, carefully examine each room to look for problems. Look for signs of water damage, such as stains, discoloration, or warping on walls, ceilings, and floors. Signs of water intrusion can sometimes be small and less noticeable at first, such as small areas of bubbling or discolored paint or soft drywall. Some leaks can do damage inside structural components, such as in attics, walls, and floors, without leaving telltale signs in the paint and drywall. You should also pay attention to the electrical system, plumbing, and HVAC systems for any visible damage or potential hazards. If you suspect faulty or damaged electrical systems, shut the power off before you continue your inspection. Be careful as you move around the building. Water-damaged floors and drywall can give way suddenly.
Evaluate the Structural Integrity
It is essential to assess the structural components of the house, including load-bearing walls, beams, foundations, and supports, especially if the house has experienced flooding or storm surge. Look for cracks, leaning walls, or any signs of shifting or settling. If you can, access the attic and crawlspace to look at the beams and rafters. If there are concerns about structural integrity, consult a professional engineer or a qualified building inspector for a detailed evaluation. Structural weakness and damage can be costly and time-consuming to repair, so make sure to get more than one qualified quote on the work that needs to be done and how long it may take to do it.
Inspect the Electrical System
If you feel comfortable and qualified, consider checking the electrical system for any exposed or damaged wiring, water damage, or malfunctioning outlets and switches. If any part of the water system was exposed to flooding or may have been exposed directly to water, it could be dangerous to turn the power on. If possible, do your initial inspection with the electricity off. Once you have an idea of the damage you can make a plan on how to move forward. If you see any obvious damage or if you know water rose to the level of the electrical outlets or any other part of the system, don’t turn the power on without the guidance of an electrician.
Assess the Plumbing System
Look for signs of problems in the plumbing such as broken pipes or clogged drains. Look for areas of water damage around plumbing fixtures, such as sinks, toilets, and showers. Monitor the building for signs of mold and consider having a mold test done. If there are no obvious problems, consider checking the water meter to see if there is any unexplained water usage, which can show hidden leaks. Make sure all of the faucets and valves are off and then check the water meter. If it is turning, that means there is still water running somewhere. If you have concerns or find extensive damage, seek assistance from a professional plumber. Make sure that you keep the water off at the water meter or main shut-off valve if there are any leaks to avoid large water bills and further damage.
Consider Hidden Damage
Keep in mind that some damage may not be immediately visible. Pay special attention to unusual odors, strange noises, and any hidden areas like crawl spaces or basements. If you are concerned that there is hidden damage or ongoing water intrusion that hasn’t yet caused sufficient damage to be visible, you might need to use technology to help. Consider using moisture meters or thermal imaging cameras to detect hidden water damage or areas with increased moisture levels. Consult with a water damage expert for this.
Document the Damage
Make sure that you are taking photographs and videos of the damage for insurance purposes. Carefully document the extent of the damage in each area of the house, including both structural and cosmetic issues. You may need this documentation for insurance claims as well as to help contractors and other professionals understand what happened to the house. You can also use these photos for future reference if you need to show that damage is ongoing or to use them in “before and after” compilations.
If you’re uncertain about the extent of the damage or your safety, don’t hesitate to consult professionals such as contractors, building inspectors, or engineers. Not only can they provide expert advice and a more thorough assessment of the property, but they can also determine if the property is safe to walk through and estimate repair costs. Consider getting second opinions and more than one quote to compare different contractors’ prices, recommendations, and timeframes for repair.
You should always take thorough notes and pictures during a damage evaluation process, including detailed descriptions of the damage in each area. Write down anything you think may be relevant and don’t be afraid of going overboard. You can always remove unneeded notes later. Finally, remember to be safe. If you are unsure about entering any area, if you think the damage might be more severe than it looks, or if you are concerned about structural or electrical problems, call in professionals to do the initial evaluation.